Marquis de Style

W hat is the relationship between the lab report you have due tomorrow and what you're actually learning in Science
By Emily J. M. knowlton

What is the relationship between the lab report you have due tomorrow and what you're actually learning in Science class? Nothing, according to Quentin Crisp, a self-proclaimed arbiter of style and the pursuit of happiness.

Teaching is for teachers, not for students," Crisp adds during his one-man show, An Evening With Quentin Crisp. "It's a way of renewing yourself every day before a captive audience."

During the run of his Boston premiere, Crisp, 76, habitually goes against the grain of popular fads, value systems and ambitions, attributing all of the above to the roots of our unhappiness.

A maverick of sorts, or a "mail order guru" (his own description), Crisp follows a prepared text during the first half of the show, reserving the second half to answer questions from the audience. It is here that the range of his expertise is tested with questions about timely concerns.

"Is there life after marriage?" asks one person. "No," Crisp answers definitively. "Do you think Nancy Reagan is a woman in drag?" asks another. "If she were, she'd be so much more feminine," he replies after fiddling with his magenta ascot for inspiration.

Though now a leader in the profession of full-time image makers, Crisp has paid the dues required to hone his distinctive style. He has made frequent television talk show appearances; has written articles for The New York Times and Esquire; and has penned an acclaimed autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, and its sequel How to Become a Virgin.

And if you like his writings, wait until you see his wardrobe. Though Crisp claims to own only hand-me-downs, he wears them as if they were 7th Avenue originals. He cuts quite a pose in his shiny green and black lame suit, black fedora hat and his longish light purple hair. Though this may not be the type of outfit that will win votes in the Boston area, Crisp is ever the politician.

"I only hope I came to say the words you want to hear," he closes with a self-amused grin.

Self-promotion is what it's all about--that and developing one's own style, says Crisps during the witty monologue. A step-by-step guide to cultivating a style must first begin with purging life of its unnecessary baggage. You know, things like jobs, culture, evening classes, superfluous people and boring domestic rituals.

"Never sweep the place where you live, because after four years the dirt never gets any worse," he elucidated to an audience that was definitely in sync with his style.

On jobs, especially those in the arts, Crisp says, the danger is "being upstaged by one's creation." It's easy, he continues, to identity the bronze donut in the corner as a Henry Moore, but just how easy is it to identify Henry Moore?

Crisp seems to espound sincerely his philosophy of self-absorption, but with a sardonic humor that would make both Ayn Rand and W.C. Fields proud. It's simultaneously a deadly serious manifesto for happiness whose key points are hilariously funny. It's no wonder that Crisp has developed such a following. He does tell egos what they want to hear.

"Equal is a dead word. It's the profession of being that makes you an authority." Besides, he adds, "You are not in competition. Every morning you should say to yourself aloud. Other people are a mistake.'" There is laughter but also disagreement. He tries it another way. "Never try and keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level. It's cheaper."

Crisp says that he looks forward to the glittery end of the world where such high priests of style as Andy Warhol will attend the ultimate cocktail party "where everyone is speaking and no one is listening."

Basically what Crisp is saying, in his ever-effervescent way, is that it's not what you do but how you do it and how you feel about it. He quotes the great Garbo with authority: "I told them I was beautiful and they believed me."